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Charlotte Amalie
Saturday, June 22, 2024


The Fourth Great Awakening & the Future of Egalitarianism
by Robert William Fogel
University of Chicago Press, 394 pp, $29

Rating: 4 stars *
Robert William Fogel became famous for demonstrating that, contrary to Marxist theory, slavery was indeed still profitable when it was (almost) eliminated in the 19th century. The book that brought him to such prominence was "Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery," published in 1974.
Fogel and Douglass C. North won the 1993 Nobel Prize for Economics for their invention of "cliometrics," which purports to demonstrate statistically the rightness or wrongness of pat or pet theories of history. Fogel's original thesis, that American slavery was still profitable in 1861 as the South seceded from the Union, has survived innumerable unscientific attacks intact.
His new book — positing his theory that a resurgence of religious fervor in America is focused on bridging the inequality of spiritual, rather than material, resources — is less convincing, if not less interesting. In "The Fourth Great Awakening & the Future of Egalitarianism," Fogel claims that:
– The "Evangelistic Revival" of the 1730s, led by the Rev. George Whitefield, prepared America for 1776 and all that.
– The more elite "Reawakening" of the early 19th century prepared the way for the abolition of slavery.
– The "Billy Sunday Awakening" of the early 20th century led to workers' rights legislation.
In the first instance, unfortunately, Fogel completely omits the Levelers, the Yankee Town Meeting, and Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Franklin (Episcopalian, Unitarian, Deist and Pragmatist, respectively). All of them were influential, to say the least, but none of them were the least bit evangelical.
In the second instance, Fogel ignores abolitionist activism in the North from before the American Revolution. Even if Washington didn't free his own slaves, he was freeing others'. And this evangelistic movement certainly didn't free any slaves in the South!
In the third instance, workers' rights and protection were part and parcel of Jeremy Bentham's Utilitarianism and of the Social Democracy of his son-in-law John Stuart Mill, author of "On Liberty," well before Marx and Engels gave these principles marching orders; they were hardly the result of grin-and-bear-it Evangelism.
The author's theory now is that, in an era where it has been the tendency of technological advances to outpace the development of ethical norms, the "fourth reawakening" will bring about egalitarian reforms based on shared values of liberals and conservatives.
Fogel is a major social scientist with a winning track record, and this reviewer hesitates to dismiss a major theory that the author has thought about for a lifetime. I leave Fogel's "Fourth Great Awakening" — which pervades Caribbean religious life today — to the reader. His argument may convince, even if the reader is put to sleep by the three previous "awakenings."
* Richard Dey rates the books he reviews for the Source on a scale of 1 to 5 stars:
5 stars – Beyond serious criticism
4 stars – A fine read
3 stars – Good, fascinating, with caveats
2 stars – Interesting or shows promise
1 star – Cautionary tale

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